Blade Runner 2049: Movie Man Jackson

Things were simpler in 2019. In 2049, Los Angeles is even more of a dystopia than before. Once under the all-watching eye of the Tyrell Corporation, scientist Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) has bought the company and put money towards new NEXUS replicants. The NEXUS-9’s are more obedient, and phase out the NEXUS-8’s. The few remaining 8’s are hunted once again by the Blade Runners; one known as “K” (Ryan Gosling) is quite adept at his job.

On a mission not out of the ordinary, K literally unearths a revelation that has wide-reaching ramifications for each party on alternates sides of a teetering proverbial “wall.” K’s investigation leads him to the legendary Blade Runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), who may possess the clues to piecing together this mystery.

Ahh…Blade Runner. The aftermath of that movie released in 1982 is arguably more noteworthy than the actual movie itself, which is in no way a slight to Ridley Scott’s original. But, the aftermath and the second, third, and fourth lives of Blade Runner are why Blade Runner 2049 exists today. A 35 year release gap between productions would seem to be problematic, but not when there’s there’s this high level of talent assembled and involved. Blade Runner 2049 is an extremely impressive piece of work that mostly lives up to its substantial hype.

The pressure and expectations of delving deeper into the dystopian setting of 2019 LA thirty years later would crush many a working director in Hollywood. But Denis Villeneuve isn’t an average director. He’s a dynamic director, one of the best—if not the best—working today. Great sci-fi features depend a lot on visual storytelling, perhaps more so than any other genre. It’s impossible not to be sucked into the extravagant world of Blade Runner 2049 and not believe it doesn’t exist, or rather, won’t exist.

Clearly being inspired by Scott’s vision, Villeneuve keeps that neo-noir style but improves upon it in lighting, ambiance, CGI, and all of the above.The dynamic duo he forms with cinematographer Roger Deakins makes for the best looking film of 2017, bar none. Oh, and the composer collaboration of Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch makes for a great atmospheric accompaniment to everything on-screen.

And then there’s the story. Co-written by Blade Runner‘s original writer Hampton Fancher and Michael Green (Alien: Covenant, Logan), the focus remains on what it means to be human. Is “feeling” still feeling if those feelings are technically artificial? The specific theme that ties into those bigger ones is purpose.To not spoil anything (hopefully), I’ll just say that the film answers this question through the fascinating main character arc. At two hours and forty-three minutes, Blade Runner 2049 tackles a lot and deals with the volume pretty efficiently with a slow burn pace.

However, Villeneuve and company do unfortunately leave a few characters and intriguing narrative threads with little to no resolution, especially in the final act. Chalk it up to an unclear direction—not in the literal sense, but a figurative one. There’s enough here to suggest that Blade Runner 2049 could spawn at least another installment, maybe more (a lower than projected opening box office weekend may put an end to that, though). But at the same time, one gets the feeling that there were multiple people working on this that would like this to close the book on Phillip K. Dick’s story for good. As such, Blade Runner 2049 ends well enough but without that complete level of satisfaction.

What is undeniably satisfying is the cast, starting with lead Ryan Gosling. His character of K is compelling, and seeing how Gosling reacts as the story unfolds around and within him is spectacular. He’s flanked by a rising Ana de Armas, a consistent Robin Wright, and an opening scene-stealing Dave Bautista. The build to Harrison Ford is worth it, the veteran chewing up real estate once he appears. All make for great characters; the only ones who feel a little underwritten on first watch appear to be Jared Leto’s and Sylvia Hoeks. No fault of their own, both deliver great performances; but their motivations seem a little hazy. Still, this cast is spectacular, night and day better than the thespian work in Ridley’s original.

More standalone film than pure sequel, Blade Runner 2049 does nothing to dull the memories of 1982. But it takes those memories as inspiration and makes something that can stand alone well enough, leaving one of the 2010’s best science-fiction films behind.

A-

Photo credits go to liveforfilm.com, cnet.com, and rollingstone.com

For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com

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La La Land: Movie Man Jackson

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Dreams, dreams, dreams. Los Angeles, California is the place people go to achieve their dreams. However, it is also the place where many a dream unfortunately go to die. For aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone), and old-school jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), only failed auditions and small-bit gigs have come from their hard work. Both do not have much more effort to give to their aspirations.

But, their batteries are recharged after chance run-ins continue to bring them together. Romance arises out of it. And luck actually begins to change for both of them. Their careers appear ready to take off, but the relationship they’ve built together could be undone if so.

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Much like Hail, Caesar!, La Land Land is a love letter to something particular. Whereas the former film was a love letter to old Hollywood, the latter film is much more specific in its scope, writing a letter to a particular genre of film. That genre of film being the musical. Its simplicity and uncommon-ness in today’s day and movie age makes for a fascinating and fresh watch.

Yours truly never looks forward to watching a musical, and I was a little skeptical of La La Land for this very reason initially. My skepticism was put to bed rather quickly, as director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) opens the movie with an astonishing set piece on the actual LA freeway. What Chazelle does here is simply amazing. The music happens rather organically, rather than overly manufactured. Though the pieces become significantly smaller scale-wise as the film progresses, that doesn’t make them any less impressive. In fact, it allows the cinematography to shine brighter, making for a beautiful-looking movie. This obviously isn’t a three-dimensional feature, but it pops a lot more than most do. It’s impossible not to appreciate all of the technical hard work and cinematic skill that’s on display. Underrated aspect of the movie? Cool to see the City of Angels not as a dunghole of despair, but—ahem—a beacon of hope and opportunity.

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But, La La Land isn’t purely a musical. It is basic romance between two characters that initially start at odds, the common backbone for many a film. He also takes stabs at a few themes that hit emotionally, mainly the idea of taking destiny in one’s own hands and the internal fight an individual has with remaining true to their artistic values, versus cashing in and providing stability.

Chazelle also wisely veers away from falling into overly cheesy mode or the happy Hollywood ending, and it gives more credence to the story. Perhaps 10-15 minutes could have been trimmed off in the middle, but otherwise, the film moves at a brisk pace, and an engaging musical number is seemingly right around the corner when things ever so slightly bog down.

I like to believe that the strongest romantic on-screen chemistry between stars makes a viewer believe that off-screen, the two could easily be an item that plasters the front pages of the tabloids and leads the E! nightly news. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling have that kind of chemistry, surely cultivated from previous movies, scintillating from the initial crude beginning on the freeway to the touching ending. Neither is classically trained in the art of song and dance, but their commitment is evident. These aren’t easy roles to nail even with extensive research or hours upon hours of practice. It speaks to the raw skill that each person has that their performances come off pretty effortless.

Sound and unmemorable work is turned in by supporting castmates John Legend, J.K. Simmons (pretty much a cameo), and Rosemarie DeWitt, but they do their jobs. Their roles aren’t written to be meaty, just to provide more meat to the characters Gosling and Stone occupy. Outside of Stone, Gosling, and Chazelle, the biggest star of the film is the unseen choreographer Mandy Moore (to my surprise not the singer). If Chazelle wins Best Director, Moore’s got to be right beside him or mentioned at the top of the acceptance speech.

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Liking the musical genre does not need to be a prerequisite for appreciating La La Land. To qualify it as only a musical would be a disservice to it. There’s more than enough in this particular number for anyone who just likes film.

A-

Photo credits go to reddit.com, ew.com, comingsoon.net, and popsugar.com.

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The Nice Guys: Movie Man Jackson

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No, these are not The Other Guys. They are The Nice Guys, though nice may be a bit of a misnomer. Private Investigators Holland March (Ryan Gosling) and Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) do the same job, but in different ways in 1970’s Los Angeles. Holland is a bit neurotic, and Healy a little more no-nonsense.

A possibly interconnected mystery involving a death of a famous porn star and the disappearance of a young lady forces their paths to cross. In between all of the glitz and glamour the City of Angels provides, something shady may be going on, and two heads, instead of one, are going to be needed to unravel this tangled web.

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Neo-noir is not a genre seen a lot in the 21st century, and that may be a good thing, Though it would be great to see it more in the mainstream, the times we do get it often makes for a breath of fresh air. Shane Black’s The Nice Guys takes the genre, some talented lead actors, and a good crime story and turns it into a watch that is immensely fun.

Compared to the blockbusters usually seen around this time of the summer season, The Nice Guys is positioned as counter-programming for the “smart adult” moviegoer. That is sort of true, but only in lack of spectacle. Yours truly would argue that The Nice Guys is as “summer-y” as any blockbuster one is likely to see this year, only missing the CGI and large environments. It’s light, quick, snappy, and bright.

The 70’s-set locale in LA hearkens itself to the disco era, with tons of orange and yellows and neon lighting making up the predominate color palette of the film. Music junkies of that era, rejoice, as licensed songs by Earth, Wind, and Fire, The Temptations, and Brick along with others all make appearances and make it impossible not to bob your head along to what is shown on screen. Additionally, a good score composed by John Ottman and David Buckley punctuates some of the action scenes well. After seeing his contributions to Iron Man 3, I wasn’t expecting the action here to be so satisfying, but it is. Very interested to see how The Predator looks in a few years now.

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It’s no surprise to see that Black, who made his name as a writer, takes that responsibility upon himself in The Nice Guys yet again. He uses a few well-worn cliches that epitomize the buddy-cop genre, and anyone who has never been fond of the subgenre is likely not to find anything here to change that sentiment. For a little while, the screenplay is sort of scattered, and it is hard to see how these leads our duo takes looks at fit together. But they finally do, and a nice twist gives an interesting addition to the final act, which shifts our leads from a focus on doing their jobs to doing the right thing.

The success of buddy cop movies hinge a lot on their stars, and Black decided to cast some big ones in Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling. Their chemistry is infectious, starting through the hilarious first scene the two share together and on. On their own, they are great as well. Crowe is the straight man of the two, while Gosling is more of the buffoon who still possesses the smarts when needed. There is a know-how that is needed in both roles, perhaps more so Crowe’s, that these two get right. A surprise revelation is the young Angourie Rice playing the daughter of Gosling’s character. Not ready to say she’s a scene stealer in this film, but she is awfully close and infuses the screenplay with an emotional component that may not exist without her.

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Nice guys don’t always have to finish at the bottom, and though its box office returns in coming weeks are likelier to be closer to the bottom of the top 10 than the top, it will be no indication of how much summer (really any season) amusement is to be had with The Nice Guys. The ending leaves open the possibility of more adventures with this oddball duo. I say bring it on, and stuff.

A-

Photo credits go to collider.com and ubertopic.com.

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The Big Short: Movie Man Jackson

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A time out is needed every so minutes when watching The Big Short. The year is 2005, and the housing market, and by extension, the economy, is looking pretty damn good. However, there are a few people, like hedge fund manager Dr. Michael Burry (Christian Bale) who believe that the housing market is awfully close to collapsing. Through research, he’s come to the conclusion that more loans are being taken out with fewer and fewer returns.

Not everyone feels this way about the market, but a few individuals hop on the bandwagon. Deutche Bank trader Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) gets in on the action early, realizing that Burry’s doomsday prediction is correct…and also very profitable. By accident, this information about the impending housing market makes way into the ears of Mark Baum (Steve Carell), a hedge fund manager at FrontPoint (a subsidiary of Morgan Stanley) who is fed up with the system.

And by virtue of being in the right place at the right time after a disappointing failure, friends and upstart business partners Charlie Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) decide to hitch their fortunes to Burry’s projections, needing the intel of a disenchanted and retired banker Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) to get a seat at the front table. There’s an opportunity to get rich, but nothing is certain. And even if it is, is it worth it to benefit if everyone else’s life is wrecked beyond belief?

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The Big Short features a ton of contradictions. It is made for dummies, and yet it isn’t. It is kind of light, yet also heavy. Simply, the film will not work for everyone, and it has issues that prevent it from being a film without issues. But, it is a film that is hard to not stop thinking about after the credits roll, and for it to achieve that with the story and subject matter it is based upon is an astonishing feat in my opinion.

The housing market and its specific jargon is awfully dense, which should, in theory, make for a dry, and perhaps even dull, movie. Director Adam McKay (Step Brothers, the Anchorman series) doesn’t shy away from it, either. This is about the housing market and the economy, and as such, certain terms are used and need to be. But, McKay does do his best to make the concepts approachable, be it the use of Zach Morris-esque fourth wall breaks featuring actual celebrities, and/or characters in the movie who take the time to explain what exactly is going on at a specific point in time, accompanied with actual definitions for the words that the main characters spout off so casually. It’s a cool device/style that McKay uses pretty well, and his usage of it distinguishes The Big Short from other biographies that can often be too “by the numbers.”

“Cool” doesn’t equate to picture-perfect, however. Know how the phrase of “letting the story/script breathe” is sometimes used for directors with a pronounced style who know when to pull back and allow the story to take focus over their directorial style? Good as the script is for The Big Short, McKay’s imprint is always seen…which isn’t always good thing. As alluded to, telling ‘TBS’ in the same straightforward fashion as other biographies and true stories wasn’t the play with the content matter bordering on boring information overload, but yours truly does wonder if a little more restraint employed by McKay would have made for a slightly more thorough cinema piece. But, credit where credit is due. Never once during the 2 hour 34 minute runtime was I bored.

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For every well-used fourth wall break technique, though, there’s one or two (looking at you, Margot Robbie), that either are unneeded, or actually complicate understanding instead of dumbing things down. In addition, it can be hard to ascertain McKay’s directorial goal with this. Is he looking to make this resemble a regular movie? A documentary with a single cam? Maybe even a music video with all of the cuts (literally with the splicing of actual music videos, and figuratively)? Admittedly, yours truly’s thoughts on the film come after Adam McKay’s Best Director nomination, which could lead to a more pessimistic look at the style as opposed to just watching it without knowing of his accolade a few weeks prior. And as said, his style is mostly good for this, if a little overused. While it is an overall impressive job turned in for a man who was only known for doing comedy, I just don’t believe it is Best Director worthy after knowing who else existed as options.

But, a director heavy visual style can’t take away from the acting work submitted by their cast. And make no mistake, The Big Short has great acting. While neither of the four leads have characters that are all that deep, they are still extremely fun to watch. Out of the four, Bale and Carell are the biggest standouts, with the former playing an awkward professional who struggles to connect with people, and the latter tapping into Michael Scott, with all of the zeal that the Dunder-Mifflin manager possessed but none of the stupidity. Gosling and Pitt are great additions and do well with their respective roles as comedic relief and semi-moral center, but get by more with their personas than anything their characters are.

Hardly featured in the marketing yet integral to the story, Finn Wittrock and John Magaro provide the audience with a nice look at how two young guys decided to buck the system. Regardless of how much meat their characters have, what each actor and McKay does do well is refrain from trying to paint characters as do-gooders. Yes, they are nowhere near as evil as those they oppose, but the movie makes no effort to paint these guys as Robin Hood types, either. I found that aspect fascinating.

Left to right: Steve Carell plays Mark Baum and Ryan Gosling plays Jared Vennett in The Big Short from Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises

The collapse of the housing market and ultimately the economy may not seem like a story that would translate well onto the silver screen, but the way it is told in The Big Short makes for a great watch, filled with an unforeseen, sometimes helter-skelter style, and strong cast work. Whether its bubble bursts on Oscar night or not remains to be seen, but in the meantime, take some time to invest in this.

Grade: B+

Photo credits go to youtube.com, vanityfair.com, and collider.com

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